The Douglas County commissioners agreed to appoint five members — including two of themselves — as the board of health for the county's new public health department during a Sept. 7 work session.
The county’s new board of health will be made up of Commissioner Lora Thomas, Commissioner George Teal, Dr. Linda Fielding, Kim Muramoto and Doug Benevento, according to the motion made by Teal.
Fielding and Muramoto both currently represent Douglas County on the Tri-County Health Department board of health. Benevento is a member of the county’s Public Health Advisory Committee, which was formed in August to provide input to the commissioners on the future of public health.
Tri-County serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties and its board of health — made up of three representatives from each county — makes decisions around public health orders like mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions from the past year and a half.
In the work session, commissioners unanimously directed county staff to create a formal resolution that, if approved in a Sept. 14 business meeting, would form this board of health. Each commissioner indicated that they planned to vote in favor of approving the resolution.
According to earlier advice from the county’s legal counsel, once the board of health is created, it will mean that the county is no longer under Tri-County public health orders, a county spokesperson said.
Under that interpretation, that would mean the county school district would no longer be required to mandate masks indoors for all students and staff.
The decision regarding the new board of health came just hours before the commissioners planned to formalize an earlier decision to form a county health department, splitting from Tri-County after 55 years. Because the county has already paid for services from Tri-County through the end of the year, they plan to continue using those services but separate from Tri-County’s governing body. The commissioners have expressed interest in continuing to contract services from Tri-County after this year.
The commissioners said they may expand this board of health or reconsider its structure in the future but wanted to move forward with immediately establishing it. Teal expressed an interest in eventually changing the board to include elected public health representatives.
The new board of health will also have alternates who can step in for the members when needed, according to the motion approved. Those alternates have not yet been decided.
The terms of the new board members were determined based on seniority, giving Fielding a one-year term, Muramoto a two-year term and Benevento a three-year term. The commissioners' terms will be set by their terms in office.
The Sept. 1 move to form a county health department came just a few days after Tri-County Health's board voted to no longer allow counties to opt out of COVID-19 public health orders and enacted a mask mandate for all students and staff in school settings — a rule that is being enforced by the Douglas County School District.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began early last year, Douglas County's elected leaders have frequently expressed displeasure with Tri-County over its pandemic-safety policies, and have discussed setting up the county's own agency.
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